If you must use Google….

It’s true, it’s true….Google is so darn convenient.  We all use it all the time; it’s a verb in our catalog of quick-information-finding lingo.  And as much as I would like to espouse the benefits of utilizing the wealth of wonderful information available at your fingertips through our library subscriptions, sometimes you might also want to take a peek at what’s on the open web.

Just don’t get too carried away….

google it.

Photo by Mez Lov. CC license here.

For those times when Google may be the best option, your friendly librarians recommend taking advantage of the ‘advanced search’ features to give you the most control over your search.  We’re working on a two part video tutorial (posted to the ‘quick tip videos’ page) to demonstrate these tricks, but thought we’d show you a few here too. Also, don’t forget that you can connect to Google Scholar through the library to take advantage of the scholarly side of Google–brush up on all the details by reading our Google Scholar blog post. 

Getting Advanced

Step 1 is to navigate to the advanced search page itself.  The easiest way to do this is to first connect to Google, then click on the ‘Settings’ link in the bottom corner of the page.  This will bring up a menu from which you can select ‘advanced search’:

Screenshot of navigating to advanced search

Click image to enlarge.

Decisions, decisions….

The advanced search menu provides A LOT of options.  For those savvy researchers familiar with database research, many of Google’s advanced search options map nicely to some common database search features such as Boolean Operators (AND; OR; NOT) and phrase searching.  To hear more thorough descriptions of each search function, check out the Part 1 tutorial video. For now, let’s try building a sample search based on a research question.

Sample Search Question: How has police violence affected voters and elections in certain U.S. cities?

This is a fairly broad question, yes, but a nice starting point for our purposes.  Here’s how I translated the pieces of this question into the advanced search menu:

Sample search in Google Advanced

Click image to enlarge.

So, how did I decide what to put where?

Since my research question is focused on how the violence has affected voters/elections, I felt that both of those terms must be included in the search.  Hence entering them in the ‘all these words’ search box.

When we think of “police violence” as a phrase it has a very specific meaning.  That meaning would be lost if we simply chose to search for the term ‘police’ and the term ‘violence’. Sure we might find some relevant results, but we’d also be flooded with less than precise results as well. Entering the phrase into the ‘exact word or phrase‘ search box ensures that Google will look for those words together in that order. (**Note: we could also run this search with the phrase “police brutality”).

I’m particularly interested in looking at these voting outcomes in some of the recent high-profile areas. Since I’m not concerned with limiting my results to just one of these cities, I listed them out in the ‘any of these words‘ search box. This way Google will return results that match any of the cities I list: Baltimore ‘OR’ Chicago ‘OR’ Ferguson.

Lastly, the ‘numbers ranging from‘ section can be a little tricky.  In an ideal world, it lets you specify things like date ranges, prices, etc.  The only problem is that Google doesn’t always do a stellar job of knowing what your numbers are referring to.  With things like prices, you can add the ‘$’ symbol to give some context. With things like dates and other whole numbers, we just have to hope that the context of our search provides the necessary clues.  This is a category you probably won’t use frequently, but it’s good to be aware of.


Let’s take a look at a screenshot of the results page to see where this search has left us:

Google advanced search results

Click image to enlarge.

**Note that the search box is now populated with some weird syntax.  Using the ‘advanced search’ page lets you take advantage of some great features without having to master all of the syntax involved.

While all of the results on the page are relevant to my search, I’ve circled a couple that seem particularly on point.

And there you have some of the basics.  Next week we’ll be publishing ‘Part 2’ of the advanced searching tutorial videos which focuses on the various ‘filters’ on the advanced search page.  Once the video is up, we’ll make a companion post to the blog as well.

Happy Searching!

One thought on “If you must use Google….

  1. Pingback: Google: Part 2 | Fielding Library Services

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